Berrian Silencing His Critics

If there was one glaring weakness for the Bears heading into the 2006 regular season, a secondary wide receiver opposite former All-Pro Muhsin Muhammad topped the list. After two stellar performances from Bernard Berrian, the speedy third-year wideout has opened some eyes around the league with his ability to make the big play.

The Bears have been searching for some reliable receiving targets to line up on the other side of veteran Muhsin Muhammad for over a year now.

Justin Gage was given a fair shake on more than one occasion but never did much with the opportunity. Mark Bradley was just coming into his own last season before a Week 7 knee injury derailed his rookie campaign. Airese Currie has the kind of speed that coaches dream about but can't stay healthy enough to make any sort of impact.

Bernard Berrian has also battled injuries and inconsistency in his career to date, but based on what he was done in the first two weeks of the season so far, the young wideout looks more than ready to take some pressure off Muhammad and give quarterback Rex Grossman the big-play threat he so desperately needs.

Although he only made one catch at Green Bay in Week 1, it went for 49 yards and a touchdown for a quick 7-0 Bears lead against the rival Packers. Grossman spent the rest of the day picking apart the secondary with short and medium throws to the likes of Muhammad and tight end Desmond Clark. Berrian's ability to get behind defenders no doubt softened up the coverage and made it much easier for his teammates to find soft spots in the zone coverage.

At home in Week 2 against the Lions, Berrian was a more consistent target for Grossman as he hauled in five passes for 89 yards and another TD. The 41-yard scoring reception he made was a fully-stretched diving effort and arguably one of the most incredible catches made in recent Bears history. Not only did he once again turn in a huge play to put points on the board from long distance, he also reeled in some tough grabs in the middle of the field and proved that he can be much more than just a home run hitter.

Berrian has six receptions for 138 yards and two touchdowns in two games, good for a healthy average of 23 yards per catch. Muhammad has contributed with 10 receptions for 161 yards on the other side of the ball and appears to be every bit the primary receiver the organization gave all that money to after before the 2005 season. When you factor in a rejuvenated Clark and his 10 receptions for 162 yards with a TD, the Bears finally have the look of a team that is capable of winning both on the ground and through the air.

The first week or so of training camp, Berrian was perhaps the most impressive player down in Bourbonnais. However, another track star injury - this time a strained groin - put him on the shelf for a while. The door was open for the likes of Gage and Bradley to make their argument for the starting assignment, but slot man Rashied Davis ended up stealing the headlines.

Davis exploded for a 41-yard touchdown catch from Brian Griese in preseason action against San Francisco and finished that game with four grabs for 91 yards. Although he recorded only one catch the following week against San Diego, he made the highlight reel again with a 100-yard kickoff return for another TD.

But no matter how well Davis played, the coaching staff never viewed him as anything more than a third wideout who could exploit some mismatches from the slot position. Not to mention that fact that he was actually playing cornerback last season and in the Arena Football League the year before that. Overwhelming him with a starting nod at wide receiver may have been counter-productive.

Enter Berrian, healthy again and eager to prove that he is indeed a quality wideout capable of catching 60 balls in this offense. Even if his primary duty is to take some heat away from Muhammad and keep the hashmarks open for Clark, with the way Grossman has shared the wealth these first two games, he will get plenty of chances to showcase that quasi-Lambeau Leap that he made after his are-you-kidding-me touchdown catch last Sunday at Soldier Field.

And with as well as the offense has played so far, there will be no shortage of believing Bears fans there to catch him.

JC


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